In late 2018, Angus Journal contracted me to write a story on suicide among farmers and ranchers. It was an especially hot topic at the time, since the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health had recently released research showing those who work in agricultural occupations were 3.4 times more likely than workers in general to commit workplace suicide. Additionally, the United States had recently seen a surge in dairy farmers dying by suicide, an alarming trend no doubt connected to low milk prices.
In the weeks I worked on Hope for the Hopeless I met some great people who are focused on getting farmers and ranchers in crisis the help they need. But none of those interviews stick out quite like mine with Ted Matthews, the director of Minnesota Rural Mental Health.
His life’s work centers around the slogan displayed prominently on his website: When you think mental health, stop thinking mental illness.
What happens often, he says, is people will recognize they’re stressed, but they don’t think it’s that bad. They say they can figure it out themselves. His response to that is, “Yeah, you can. But why would you if there’s an easier way?”
Right now, there’s no doubt ranchers are stressed. The COVID-19 pandemic has far-reaching impacts, not only on the economy and cattle market but on the way we do business. That worry is compounded by concern for loved ones. And while some social distancing may be the norm on many ranches, most aren’t used to being isolated from family and friends for long periods of time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, stress during this type of crisis can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
While it may feel overwhelming to add one more task to a too long to do list, the organization offers multiple tips to improve your mental health in the comfort of your own home:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic continuously can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others over the phone or through video chatting. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row. And, if you’re ever considering taking your own life, please call 911 or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
These are tough times, but you’re never alone.
Katrina Huffstutler is the executive director of communications for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.